Sask. homelessness strategy includes permanent emergency shelter in Prince Albert

Cots sit inside a homeless shelter in Prince Albert. – Herald file photo

YWCA facing staffing hurdles to get Stepping Stones shelter running for the winter

A funding commitment from the Saskatchewan government is allowing a Prince Albert homeless shelter to expand.

The Stepping Stones Emergency Shelter, ran by the YWCA, has been operating overnight during the winter at the exhibition grounds for the last few years.

With $830,000 from the province, CEO Donna Brooks said they’ll be able to open permanently with 45 beds. In the past, she said, the YWCA has largely relied on funding on a year-to-year basis to operate seasonally.

“This will allow us to open 24 hours, which is huge. Previously, everyone had to leave and come back and we were only open for either 12 hours or 16 hours, depending on the time of year,” she said.

“What permanent, year-round funding does is you don’t have to lay off staff in the spring and try to find staff again in the fall. You don’t run into that.”

However, Brooks explained, the YWCA is facing staffing challenges to get the shelter running for the year.

Brooks said they started posting job positions in August, but didn’t have enough trained staff to open as planned on Oct. 15. Instead, they’re eyeing a Nov. 1 opening.

“There’s a fairly significant labour shortage right now, so staffing is hard. It’s hard to find staff, especially in 24-hour programs.”

Brooks said they’ll stick to 12 hours a day for the first month, and then switch to 24 hours on Dec. 1.

Prince Albert YWCA CEO Donna Brooks speaks during a media availability on Monday, Sept. 11, 2023. – Nathan Reiter/Daily Herald

The YWCA is also seeking a different location for the shelter.

“We’ve been looking at different options for a permanent shelter and have some ideas, and hopefully we will kind of know by the new year where we are eventually going to land with that.”

The funding is part of the province’s new homelessness strategy, announced earlier this month. It includes an over $40 million investment over the next two years for additional spaces for emergency shelters, supportive housing, and complex needs.

The complex needs shelters in Saskatoon and Regina will include supervision of intoxicated people for up to 24 hours.

At the same time, the provincial government announced a five-year mental health and addictions plan. It includes 500 new treatment spaces and a self-referral treatment system.

“I think they’re headed in the right direction because homelessness is such a complex issue. It’s not just one ministry and one agency that can help solve it. There’s so many things that play into it and it looks like they’re working at all angles,” said Brooks.

The homelessness strategy is a collaboration between the ministries of social services, health, and corrections, policing and public safety.

“Along with community partners, we are working to improve outcomes for people experiencing homelessness and better support individuals who need more than a home to remain connected to housing,” said Gene Makowsky, minister of social services.

With winter approaching, Brooks asked the public to be open-minded to those on the streets.

“A lot of people sometimes think homelessness is a choice. There might be some people that are out there on the street that they do choose that because that’s how they would like to live, but most of the time it’s not a choice,” she said.

“It’s a matter of circumstances that have led up to that.”

The Stepping Stones shelter currently offers cots, light meals, showers, toiletries and laundry services.

According to a news release, the enhanced emergency shelters will provide three meals a day, wellness and cultural support and financial and housing assistance.